Russian eDemocracy: There and Back Again

A few days ago RuNet Echo discussed [GV] a “schism” that had emerged in Russia's protest movement last winter, when certain leaders of the protest made an allegedly unilateral decision to cooperate with the city of Moscow in planning a December 10, 2011 rally. At the urging of the Moscow administration, the anti-election-fraud rally was moved from a central location within sight of the Central Election Committee to a less central park across the river. A recent New Times article which details the negotiations has rekindled suspicions and incited infighting and bickering in the protest movement. Other Russia leader Eduard Limonov [ru]:

Russian writer Eduard Limonov at the 6 Moscow International Book Festival. 2011.06.13 © Rodrigo Fernandez. CC 3.0

Я уверен, они и сегодня  договариваются и сдают протест. Ничто не свидетельствует об обратном. (Что до беспорядков 6 мая, то в тот день события вышли из-под их контроля). Когда они ухайдокают ваш протест полностью, выпустят весь пар, то  наступит The End , и они перейдут на другую работу. Надо их убирать, вырезать как раковую опухоль из протестного движения.

I am sure they are negotiating and handing over the protest to this day. There is nothing to convince me of the opposite. (As to the May 6 riot, on that day they lost control of the events). Once they snuff the protest out completely, let out all the steam, The End will come, and they will switch to other work. They should be removed from the protest movement, excised like a cancerous tumor.

Such accusations appear to be the proximate cause of a new eDemocracy initiative from the masterminds behind the Coordinating Council elections. The Coordinating Council is in the process of organizing a protest march on December 15th, and opposition leaders are once again involved in negotiations with Moscow city authorities to determine where it will take place. This time, likely in an attempt to preclude appearances of behind the scenes double-dealing, they are asking their online electorate for their opinion.

On December 8th Sergei Parkhomenko, who many still think is to blame for last winter's failures, blogged that the Mayor's Office turned down all march routes proposed by Coordinating Council negotiators (both included marching through Lubianka Square). Now, wrote [ru] Parkhomenko,

Sergei Parkhomenko. 2010. © Anton Nosik. CC 3.0

КООРДИНАЦИОННЫЙ СОВЕТ ОБРАЩАЕТСЯ К ИЗБИРАТЕЛЯМ. Как быть дальше? НАСТАИВАТЬ на своем? или СОГЛАСИТЬСЯ с запретами мэрии? Очень много мы слышим требований – обращаться непосредственно к мнению избирателей по важным, принципиальным вопросам. Вот – первая такая попытка. Прямое обращение к вам. НАША ЗАДАЧА ОЧЕНЬ ПРОСТАЯ: НАДЕЛИТЬ ПРЕДСТАВИТЕЛЕЙ КООРДИНАЦИОННОГО СОВЕТА, КОТОРЫЕ ВЕДУТ ПЕРЕГОВОРЫ (Сергея Удальцова, Евгению Третьякову, Геннадия Гудкова и других), ЯСНО ВЫРАЖЕННОЙ ПОЗИЦИЕЙ УЧАСТНИКОВ ШЕСТВИЯ.

THE COORDINATING COUNCIL IS ADDRESSING THE ELECTORATE. What to do next? INSIST on our approach? or to AGREE with the mayoral restrictions? We hear many demands – to address the voters directly in important matter of principle. This is the first such attempt. Direct appeal to you. OUR TASK IS SIMPLE: ENDOW THE COORDINATING COUNCIL REPRESENTATIVES IN CHARGE OF NEGOTIATIONS (Sergei Udaltsov, Evgenia Tretiakova, Gennady Gudkov and others), WITH A CLEARLY EXPRESSED POSITION OF MARCH PARTICIPANTS.

Although this statement is couched in direct democracy terms, it’ is easy to see that the negotiators also want a measure of protection from accusations of collaboration with the Kremlin. The voting is currently taking place using the same infrastructure [ru] that was used in the Coordinating Council elections last month. Although it is unclear whether opposition negotiators can achieve anything by taking a hard-line stance in the matter (they are not likely to publicly support an unsanctioned rally), unofficial protest leader Alexey Navalny has also promoted [ru] the online vote as a solution:

Мы все должны решать это. И у нас есть для этого инструменты. Мы все хотели прямой демократии и возможности для каждого влиять на принятие решений и даже решать самому. […] Поэтому давайте сейчас прямым голосованием и решим […]

We all have to decide this. And we have the tools for it. We all wanted direct democracy and the opportunity for everyone to influence decision making and evening make decisions. […] So let us use direct voting right now and decide […]

So far it looks as though this initiative is mainly soliciting the opinion of previous eDemocracy participants. As explained [ru] by Leonid Volkov, the man in charge of developing the voting system,

Чтобы высказаться, необходимо пройти по знакомой ссылочке, и точно таким же образом, как вы это делали во время выборов в КС 20-21 октября, ввести свой телефон и идентификатор избирателя

To have your say, you need to click on the familiar link, and, in the same way that you did during the CC elections on October 20-21, input your telephone number and voter ID.

From these instructions it is unclear what someone new to the system would do. Even if it is possible to go through the rigorous registration process in time to vote, the process is certainly simpler for someone who had previously registered. This simplicity has it's own pitfalls. While almost 100,000 users registered to vote during the Coordinating Council elections and so should easily be able to participate in this informal poll, so far just under 11,000 have chosen to voice their opinion. This doesn't spell good things for popular interest in street protest.

Regardless, the overwhelming majority of these 11,000 voters have voted to “insist” on the original protest route. Only 2,124 people suggested that the negotiators should acquiesce to government proscriptions. If ever there was a mandate for collaboration, it no longer exists.

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